The price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil -- a U.S. benchmark -- closed today at $59.95, a level of great psychological significance. Ever since Thanskgiving, when member nations of OPEC decided not to cut oil production, prices have tumbled. But this is also part of a longer term pattern, a fall of over $40 per barrel since late June.


Credit: NASDAQ

The last time prices for WTI crude were below $ 60 per barrel was July of 2009, amid the Great Recession.

On the one hand, the plunge in oil prices has been a boon to American consumers, who are now enjoying nationally averaged prices of $2.62 per gallon for regular gasoline. A year ago, in contrast, the national average price was $ 3.26, meaning that drivers are now paying a striking 64 cents less for a gallon of gas on average.

What's more, gas prices may have further to fall, as the market responds to the latest declines in oil prices.

One catalyst in the market today, according to Bloomberg, was comments by Saudi Arabia's oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, who suggested there was no need to cut production, and that the oil market will naturally correct.

What's particularly striking is to find oil this low not in a time of dramatic recession, as in 2009, but rather, in a time when there's no immediate economic crisis. To find prices below $60 at a time significantly prior to the 2009 economic crash, you have to go back to early 2007.